Athough you can find a toner for almost every skin concern nowadays, witch hazel still reigns supreme. You’ve probably even seen a bottle of the unassuming clear liquid while browsing Target, and read about how it can tone, cleanse, and moisturise skin—all with a few swipes of a cotton round. But ever wonder how witch hazel delivers all this magic? To get to the bottom of it, we spoke with Board-Certified Dermatologist, Rachel Nazarian, of Schweiger Dermatology Group and Mount Sinai Department of Dermatology in New York.
First, Let’s Talk About Toning
Since toning can be viewed as more optional than moisturiser or cleanser, you need to understand how the step works before you can figure out how witch hazel achieves it. “Toning is considered a prep step in our skin care regimen—it typically takes place after cleansing the skin with traditional cleanser and water, but before application of other active ingredients,” says Nazarian. “Its purpose can vary; many people use it to enhance absorption of the final ingredients in the skin care regimen (this is usually referred to as essence toners), while others use it for the traditional reason: to more deeply cleanse and further remove dirt and oil. Recently, many toners are used as a means of applying calming active ingredients.”
What Is Witch Hazel, Anyway?
“Witch hazel is an extract derived from both the leaves and bark of a plant, Hamamelis virginiana,” explains Dr. Nazarian. “Although the leaves contain a small amount of essential oil, it is not fully an essential oil or hydrosol, per se, as the aromatic portion of the plant isn’t the major source of the extract.”
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How Does Witch Hazel Tone Skin?
According to Nazarian, witch hazel contains something called tannins—which naturally offer astringent and anti-inflammatory properties. “So it’s a toner that more deeply cleanses skin by removing surface oils and bacteria, but also a calming active ingredient,” she says. That being said, witch hazel is often mixed with alcohol, which can be overly drying and sensitising to skin in the long-term.
What Are Witch Hazel’s Skin Care Benefits?
Although any skin type can benefit from a deep cleanse every once in a while, witch hazel is particularly powerful for acne-prone skin, since it can treat a breakout or inflammation from multiple angles. “Since acne pimples are often considered inflammatory, using products with witch hazel can improve redness and decrease size of pimples,” notes Nazarian. “Witch hazel is an ideal acne-fighting ingredient because of the multifactorial approach: decreasing oil, bacteria, and inflammation. Although witch hazel can be used to decrease surface oil and inflammation, which can minimise the size of pores, it’s also a free-radical scavenger which can protect skin against premature environmental ageing.”
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How Do You Tone Skin With Witch Hazel?
Get ready to meet the easiest step of your skin care routine. Product instructions will vary, but for the most part, all you have to do is apply the witch hazel toner to a cotton ball or round, then dab the product across your clean, dry skin. Don’t use it to remove eye makeup (it’s too harsh), though witch hazel can help reduce fluid retention under the eyes. Then, follow it up with whatever actives or moisturisers you already have in your routine—after all, this is an ingredient that plays well with others. Like all good things, don’t rush into it. Try using witch hazel a few times a week, and watch how your skin reacts.
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.
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